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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ••••1/2

The_Secret_Life_of_Walter_Mitty_posterStarring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly
Director: Ben Stiller
Screenplay: Steve Conrad and James Thurber
Adventure/Comedy/Drama, Rated: PG
Running Time: 114 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2013



The secret’s out, it’s time to review The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

It’s a little known secret that Walter Mitty uses the deodorant Secret. Let’s recap.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreamer. He’s also the Negative Asset Manager at Life Magazine. He’s attracted to the new girl at Life, Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) but he can never get the nerve to talk to her. He’s tried to send her a “wink” on eHarmony’s web site, but his profile is so bare (because he’s never done anything or gone anywhere noteworthy) that he doesn’t have the credits to do so.  He imagines introducing himself in person in a dozen different ways: as a mountain climber, as an action hero, or as a dog rescuer. But he can never work up the nerve to just be himself.

One day everyone at Life Magazine is informed that the hard-copy version of the magazine is being eliminated and that there will be layoffs now that Life is going totally electronic. Mitty is charged with identifying the last cover photo of the physical magazine, and it is a photo mailed to him by the legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). The only problem is that this photo is missing among all the photos sent by O’Connell. To keep his job, Mitty must find that photo.

And so begins the odyssey of Walter Mitty, chasing after Sean in all manner of locations. Scott, this was a wonderful film with heart and meaning. I loved the exotic locations and flights of fancy that Walter indulges in. It’s the story of Walter finding himself as well as finding the missing negative. And of course, he does it all with the inspiration of a pretty girl.

I enjoyed this movie, too, Greg. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a sweet and simple story about a man who makes a decision to live a non-boring life. You might say that Walter Mitty is a man who chooses to cast himself on a hero’s journey, which is not the usual route to heroism. Typically, heroes are summoned on a journey by outside forces, often against their will.

Walter Mitty, however, is one of those men who one day realizes that his personal life is going no where and that the only way to move forward, as a person, is to leave the safe confines of his dull life and begin to experience adventure away from home. The man whom Mitty contacts at eHarmony is instrumental in awakening Mitty and driving home the need for Mitty to change his life.

That was a nice touch: the unseen voice on the other end of the phone that kept calling him to check on his progress. We often look for a mentor character in these hero’s journeys and there isn’t a clear one here. But the combination of the eHarmony customer service rep and Walter’s desire to impress Cheryl as well as Sean’s unspoken beckoning to go on the adventure add up to a mentor’s call to adventure.

The movie is based on a short story by James Thurber which is only 2 pages long. Ben Stiller has taken the idea of Walter Mitty and filled it with such substance. Mitty is timid, but we like him. We’ve all had moments of fancy where we imagine performing heroic deeds or imagined a much wittier retort minutes later. Stiller’s Mitty realizes that to get what he wants out of life he has to step up his game. He has to take chances. And he has to become more than he is. The ability to create a character that everyone can identify with is at the heart of good storytelling and Ben Stiller hit a home run with Walter Mitty.

If I had a problem with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it is that the story is a bit too simple and too predictable. Whether we’ve read the short story on which the movie is based, or not, we know exactly what must happen. Walter must go out and have a great adventure. The adventure he has isn’t exactly mind-blowing, at least by current movie standards, but it’s a far cry from Walter’s normal humdrum existence. One unfortunate fact is that the movie’s best visuals are given away in the trailer.

Still, the story of Walter Mitty is a pleasant undertaking to which we can all relate. Who among us doesn’t want to break free of our fears and from the stagnant routine of our limited lives? And who doesn’t want to travel to exotic places? The story ultimately reveals a Great Truth of life – contained within our so-called humdrum lives is great meaning and the potential for great love, assuming we can open our eyes and summon the courage to find it, of course.

I saw it differently, Scott. I didn’t find the story too predictable or even too simple. It’s in the same class as Forest Gump. It’s the story of an ordinary man who goes on a quest to find himself. It’s true that we know Mitty is going to grow through his travels, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that he finds Sean or the missing negative. And even if he doesn’t find the negative, it’s the journey that is the reward.

I found The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a thoughtful and sensitive treatment of the time-honored short story. Ben Stiller does an excellent job of both acting in and directing this film. I identified with Mitty and felt uplifted as he grew in his character. I give the movie 5 out of 5 Reels for a high-quality movie-going experience. Walter Mitty is the classic hero starting out simple and cast into a special world where he must either grow or fail. And grow he does. I give Walter Mitty 5 out of 5 heroes for a character that we will want to see again and again.

Movie: reel-5 Heroes: superman-5

I enjoyed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but wasn’t as enchanted with it as you were, Greg. Still, the movie has much to commend it, and I was particularly impressed with the film’s ending, which was emotionally satisfying and delivered exactly what the movie needed to leave its audience happy. Walter Mitty is a simple story with great appeal and rewarding integrity, too. I’m happy to award it 4 Reels out of 5. As you note, Greg, the hero story is a classic journey of self-growth in which Mitty must acquire exactly what his character is missing in order to achieve his goal. I award the excellent character of Walter Mitty 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

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